In the average American homeowner’s garage, there are all sorts of tools and machines. Some are pretty simple, like shovels or rakes (one step up from a stick, actually); others are more complex and usually run on some sort of motor or engine. They many times are used to cut something – grass, brush, weeds.
Most of them are merely powered versions of that thing in the picture at the top of the page, in pieces, awaiting the DH’s ministrations with glue and a screwdriver: A scythe.
Invented before the birth of Christ, this more advanced (and advantaged) version of a sickle allowed mowers and reapers to work standing up. Using a sickle is real ‘stoop labor’ and you can’t really get any speed with it as the motion is: Bend down, grasp a bunch of grain plants in one hand, cut it with the sickle and lay it down. With a scythe, a mower or reaper can walk and swing the scythe with every step. The advance of putting a long handle and a blade at one end enabled workers to literally cover far more ground. It also enabled workers to organize the work so that mowers and reapers would line up in a field with space in between them and work their way down the field and the whole field would be finished at pretty much the same time. OH – just as a note: Mowing refers to cutting grass; cutting grain is referred to as reaping – so “The Grim Reaper”, that is, Death represented as carrying a scythe, is obviously meant as a being associated with harvesting grains. I guess he can’t be bothered mowing the lawn.
Now, in 2012, why would anyone want to use a scythe – other than for some sense of curiosity or some sort of historic re-enactment? Well, to be blunt (well, hopefully, the blade is not blunt), there are some conformations of property which are actually pretty dangerous to mow with a powered mower or a tractor. How many times do we hear or read every summer of someone who is injured or killed when the tractor or mower they are riding on turns over on a slope? A person with a scythe can safely mow those areas of lawn or pasture. There are also areas where you can’t or don’t want to use a mower – such as a ditch. Scythe work is superb in tight spots because the mower can change their swing to accommodate the space.
“Oh,” you say, “Aunt Toby; I have a “weed-wacker” for that.”
Mmhmmm. And you have to mix up that funky two-cycle engine oil and gas and constantly stop to refill the cartridge with the plastic fish line, which breaks in little odd pieces which can be eaten by birds and animals.
Scythe? No engine. No engine oil. No gasoline. No little odd bits of plastic line. Just you, the wood snath (that’s the long piece of wood that the handles are attached to), and the blade. And the very pleasant ‘swoosh’ sound of cutting the grass in one…smooth…stroke.
Now, the DH and our son have used our scythe (the one in the photo is a brand new one – that’s another story for another time) for years to do everything from cutting grass for our livestock to keeping the weeds down at the edges of the pasture, to cleaning out the ditch in front of our house. If we had a separate brush blade (you can get blades for cutting almost everything, except perhaps small trees), we could go up to the top pasture and hack down a lot of the small brush up there, too. Perhaps some day. The one thing they have not gotten into is ‘competitive mowing’.
Yep – this is an event in Europe and Canada, which has not really caught on in the US, but literally every contestant is given the same size area to mow and the winner is the mower who does the neatest and most consistent job within the least amount of time. It’s not size or brute strength or necessarily speed – I’ve read of women mowers winning contests. Some contests (as in this video) are team events – sort of like relay races. Get through the first couple of minutes of the video and you will see just how efficient these mowers are with a scythe. Now, they are working in bare feet – I think that is a personal choice; I can tell you that the DH and my son never work in bare feet when they are mowing but that has more to do with snakes or other creatures at foot level than any fear of harm from a scythe.
Working with a scythe puts you right in line with agriculture over thousands of years – literally until horse-drawn mowing equipment in the last third of the 19th century. And along with using the scythe itself, you have to learn and experience other skills that we associate with past times. One of them is ‘peening’ which is literally hammering the edge of the blade out on a little anvil to straighten out the blade (you tend to get little cuts and wavy bits from hitting rocks when you mow). You literally do smithing out there, and you also will be using a stone to sharpen the blade itself. All of these are activities which thousands of agricultural workers have done for thousands of years – it really puts you into contact with that long chain of grain growing and domestication going back to Greek and Roman times.
Now, the DH frankly learned to scythe from a book; he did not have a mowing mentor. Today, you have available all sorts of videos out there and we do have a supplier, so all you have to do is search on ‘scythe’. Who knows? Perhaps you have a competitive mower in you!